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Students and Educators Become Rocket Scientists for a Week at NASA Wallops

UPDATE June 19, 2017:  The Terrier-Improved Orion launch scheduled for June 22 will now be launched between 5:30 – 8:30 a.m.  The rocket is carrying the RockOn and RockSat-C experiments.  The backup launch day is June 23.

A large group of students watches as a sounding rocket launches in the background.
Students watch as a Terrier-Improved Orion launches carrying experiments for the RockOn and RockSat-C programs.
NASA/Patrick Black

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 4:30 a.m. EDT on launch day for viewing the flight.  Live coverage of the mission begins at 5 a.m. on the Wallops Ustream site. Launch updates also are available via the WallopsFacebook and Twitter sites. Facebook Live coverage begins at 5:15 a.m. The rocket launch is expected to be seen from the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland.

Have you wondered what it would be like to be a real rocket scientist?

Approximately 150 university and community college students and instructors and high school educators will get that chance during Rocket Week June 17 through 23 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Nearly 130 university and community college students and instructors from across the country will build and fly experiments on a NASA suborbital rocket through the RockOn! and RockSat-C programs. Another 20 high school educators from across the United States will examine how to apply rocketry basics into their curriculum through the Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers (WRATs)

The week ends with the students launching their experiments on a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket at 6 a.m. EDT on June 22. The rocket is 36 feet long and the payload weighs 667 pounds.

High school educators work on building model rockets during WRATS 2016.
NASA/Patrick Black

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 5 a.m. EDT on launch day for viewing the flight.  Live coverage of the mission is scheduled to begin at 5:30 a.m. on the Wallops Ustream site. Launch updates also are available via the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites. Facebook Live coverage begins at 5:45 a.m. The rocket launch is expected to be seen from the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland.

Smartphone users can download the “What’s Up at Wallops” app for information on the launch as well as a compass showing the precise direction for launch viewing.

The June rocket will carry 23 experiments (measuring acceleration, humidity, pressure, temperature and radiation counts) from the RockOn! program, nine experiments from the RockSat-C program and more than 80 small cubes with experiments developed by middle school students in 49 states as part of the Cubes in Space program, a partnership between idoodlelearning inc. and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

After flying to nearly 73 miles altitude, the payload will land via a parachute in the Atlantic Ocean where it will be recovered by boat. The participants should have their experiments returned to them later in the day to begin their data analysis.

Joyce Winterton, Wallops senior advisor for education and leadership development, said, “We look forward each year to Rocket Week and the students and educators who come to Wallops with an enthusiasm to learn the skills to advance their careers and instruction to advance those of younger students.”

Conducted with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia, RockOn! is in its tenth year, RockSat-C its ninth and WRATS is in its seventh year.

RockOn 2016 participants work to prepare their experiments for flight.
NASA/Patrick Black

“The longevity of these programs shows the continued interest from students and educators, “said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the NASA Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops. “Participants receive hands-on instruction, personal attention and the opportunity to work with career “rocket scientists” — engineers and technicians who work on rockets on a daily basis.”

In RockOn! the participants receive instruction on the basics required in building and developing a scientific payload for flight on a suborbital rocket. After learning the basics in RockOn!, students may then participate in RockSat-C, where they design and build an experiment for rocket flight during the school year.

Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, said, “The partnership with NASA has led to excellent learning opportunities for the participants in the RockOn! and RockSat-C programs.  More than 500 students and instructors, including this years’ attendees, have participated in the 10-years RockOn! has been conducted.”

WRATS works with high school teachers to show them the basics of rocketry and how to take what they learn into the classroom. The 20 participants from Virginia, Maryland,  New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, Delaware, and Oklahoma will receive instruction on the basics of rocketry including Newton’s Laws, fundamentals of electronics, drag and propulsion. This instruction will be applied to hands-on learning activities including building and launching model rockets.

The RockOn!, RockSat and WRATS programs are supported by the NASA Sounding Rocket Program. RockOn! also is supported by NASA’s Office of Education and NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia, as well as the program participants.

NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program is conducted at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Orbital ATK provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations for the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program for the agency.

Keith Koehler
Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.



Last Updated
Sep 14, 2023
Patrick Black